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Software Review: Adobe Creative Cloud for Photographers

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Back in April of this year, Adobe Systems announced that it was going to discontinue its line of creative suites and now focus on the Adobe Creative Cloud that it rolled out with its CS6 launch. Creative Cloud is a subscription-based offering based on a hub for making, sharing and delivering creative work, centered on what was once the Adobe Creative Suite software.

Membership provides users with the acess to download and install every Adobe CS6 application along with other applications such as Adobe Muse, Adobe Edge, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, and more. Adobe Creative Cloud members will have access to application upgrades, including new CS point-product features, before they are launched as part of major CS updates, as well as inventive new products and services as they emerge.

Adobe Creative Cloud membership is $49.99 per month with an annual contract. A special introductory offer of $29.99 per month for CS3, CS4, CS5 and CS5.5 individual customers is available. You also have the ability to subscribe to individual items. If, for example, you only use Adobe Photoshop, you can license it for $19.99 per month.

Adobe Creative Cloud for Photographers

Adobe Creative Cloud

So what does this mean to you? Well if you are a user of Adobe products – individual items or the entire suite – and you upgraded to each new version regularly, then that means it really is not going to cost you much more than it did before. In fact since they are offering special prices for the first year, you will be saving money. Now if you only upgraded every couple of versions, then you should upgrade to CS6 now, and you should be good for several years since Adobe has promised that it will continue to update for new cameras and other specific things for the foreseeable future.

The only issue I see – well, outside of those who like to hack and steal new software – is that if you stop paying for the software it will stop working. In the past, if I didn’t purchase the new version, the current one would still work for as long as the computer platform supported it. If for some reason I get to some future version, say Creative Cloud 2, and stop paying, my app will stop working, and anything that has files that rely on features of CC2 won’t work in CS6. However, if you need to, you can still purchase a month-long subscription, and even if Adobe is up to CC4, you will still have access to prior versions.

All that said, since there should be systematic releases throughout the year, I am now going to move away from individual product reviews. This first go-around I am going to break this into four reviews. The first will look at the photography tools, the second will focus on the design tools, the third will be about the video tools, and the final one will be about the web tools. After that we will see how the next set of releases is handled.

Here the photography tools are Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5. Because Lightroom is both a part of the Creative Cloud and a standalone product – the only one that you can purchase as an individual software product – it has a revision number assigned to it. The other change is that there is only one Photoshop. In prior incarnations there were Photoshop and Photoshop Extended with the 3D enhancements. Now there is only one Photoshop and it contains all of the extended capabilities.

Adobe Creative Cloud for Photographers

Lightroom 5

So what is new with Lightroom 5?

Advanced Healing Brush gives you the ability to remove unwanted elements from an image. Similar to the Spot Removal tool which lets you remove circular areas in an image, the Advanced Healing Brush provides the same effect on irregular paths. So if there is a power line in your photograph, you just adjust the size of your brush and drag it along the path of the power line and it will be removed.

• The Upright Tool provides you another tool in your arsenal to assure a straight image. In the past you could use rotation and changes in perspective to make an image straight, but with the Upright Tool, you have four different modes to straighten a tilted image. These modes are auto, level, vertical, and full. The Upright tool analyzes the image and detects skewed horizontal and vertical lines – even if the horizon is hidden – and straightens the image. The modes let you direct how much of the image is adjusted and where the changes will be made.

Adobe Creative Cloud for Photographers

Lightroom 5

• The Radial Gradient Tool allows you to direct the attention of the viewer to the areas of your photo without having to crop an image or use vignetting to eliminate distracting elements from the image. With the Radial Gradient Tool you can create off-center vignette effects or multiple vignetted areas in a single image. This local adjustment control lets photographers minimize distractions and focus the viewer’s attention exactly where it should be.

Smart Previews give you the ability to work with your images on the go without having to bring your entire library with you. Smart previews are smaller images that stand in for your real images. You can work with these images as you would with your full images – make adjustments or metadata additions when you are on the road, for example – and then when you get back those changes will be applied to the full image when they are reconnected

Improved photo book creation builds on the photo book creation workflow that was introduced in Lightroom 4. Now Lightroom 5 lets photographers customize photo books more than ever, with a variety of easy-to-use book templates that you can now edit to create a customized look. You can add page numbers, individual photo captions, and captions for an entire page. You can even customize the font style, color, size, and more with the same text technology available in Adobe InDesign. Plus, once you’ve perfected a layout, you can save it and use it again and again.

Adobe Creative Cloud for Photographers

Lightroom 5

Slideshows with videos and still images give you more flexibility than ever. You can now do more with video clips: from organizing, viewing, and making adjustments and edits to playing and trimming clips and extracting still images from video footage. With Lightroom 5, photographers can now easily combine still images, video clips, and music in creative HD video slideshows that can be viewed on almost any computer or device.

As one would expect with a major revision, Lightroom 5 really adds a lot. The Advanced Healing brush is a major addition. It means there’s one less thing for which a photographer needs to go into Photoshop for more advanced work, thus allowing them to focus more of their time in Lightroom.

The Upright Tool is also a big time-saver, giving you the ability to make straightening adjustments in Lightroom quickly and easily. Add to that the Radial Gradient tool, Smart Previews, and Improved book creation and slide shows, and Lightroom 5 is a must-have upgrade.

So what is new with Photoshop CC?

Adobe Creative Cloud for Photographers

Photoshop CC

Smart Sharpen is all new technology meant to make your images pop. Through the ability to take your image content into account, Smart Sharpen attempts to deliver far better results for one of the most common image adjustments using adaptive sharpening technology to minimize noise and halo effects while producing high-quality results. A newly consolidated and streamlined design offers optimized controls for targeted sharpening. Use the sliders for quick adjustments and advanced controls to fine-tune your results.

Upsampling helps you increase the size of your images without introducing noise. The new Preserve Details option in the Image Size dialog box enables you to enlarge a low-res image for print, or start with a larger image and blow it up for use on a poster or billboard. This new option is specifically designed to preserve photorealistic details when upsampling or interpolating to larger image sizes.

Adobe Creative Cloud for Photographers

Photoshop CC

Camera Shake Reduction gives you the ability to automatically restore sharpness to images blurred by camera movement at slow shutter speeds or with long focal lengths. This feature analyzes the trajectory of blurs resulting from movement of your camera and produces sharper results for images which may have otherwise been unusable.

Precise editing with Adobe Camera Raw 8 lets you maintain the images you capture in the Raw format for longer, and integrate sophisticated raw editing functionality into the core of your Photoshop workflow, while at the same time achieving superior processing results. The new features include an improved non-circular healing brush, a new Upright feature, and a new Radial Gradient for off-center vignettes.

Performance improvements allow you to work faster now that the Mercury Graphics Engine delivers enhanced performance in Blur Gallery and up to 24X performance gains when working with the Liquify filter. Create better masks and selections with more powerful Minimum and Maximum filters, with options to preserve squareness or roundness. Enjoy the freedom to nondestructively edit your Blur Gallery and Liquify effects – even on video – now that both features offer Smart Object support.

On the surface the improvements to Photoshop CC may appear minor, although the sharpening, upsampling, and shake reduction are welcome additions as are the precise editing additions to Camera Raw which are shared with Adobe Lightroom 5. But this is really what the Creative Cloud is going to be all about: not always drastic revisions for each release, but rather constant, ongoing updates to keep the technology dynamically improving over time.

Adobe Creative Cloud for Photographers

Photoshop CC

No longer will there be an 18-month wait between releases. We get these six or seven releases now. In two or three months we may see three or four more such. By the end of any 18-month cycle, there may be 20 major new features and a couple of hundred little fixes, tweaks, and additions, all in an ongoing effort to bring change as it happens.

If this were CS7, I would probably have much more of a problem with how lean this release is, but I see it as an update. If you are on Photoshop CS6 and have no intention of moving to the cloud right now, this is probably not your update, but if you do, I do think it makes a good start and so I really recommend the Creative Cloud.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.